The old rule that certain types of shellfish can only be eaten when there is an ‘r’ in the month means that I always endure the summer without a number of my favourite foods. After reading an article in the New York Times that explained why this was – the warmer waters and algae present in the summer months lead to an increase in the potential for food poisoning – I have observed this rule ardently, despite the temptations from supermarkets who still sell the shellfish at these forbidden times. My favourite shellfish of all is mussels, so almost as soon as the autumn rolls around, I visit my fishmonger for a bag. The repeat visits often continue until the onset of spring. There is something about the sound of them crashing against the sides of the pan, and the salty burst of steam when you open to remind you of holidays past and make you feel that you are in a French beach house somewhere, not in the midst of a British winter.
Moules Marinere is such a deliciously perfect dish that I anticipate it in the same way that I do many of my other favourites – especially as I usually do not have to cook it myself. When I first met Ollie, he would cook mussels for me all the time, with a side order of salted, skinny frites and a glass of cold muscadet. His recipe is so excellent that I have yet to find one in a restaurant that I enjoy as much. It has been a long time since he perfected it and he makes it so often that he knows it by heart, so to get my hands on it, I had to volunteer as sous chef for the evening whilst trying to write down each step in a wine-splashed notebook. Not the most conventional way of recipe research!
There is very little out of the ordinary in this recipe, the only wildcard being the addition of some finely-diced carrot to to give the sauce an extra amount of sweetness. The rest is your usual combination of white wine, garlic, shallots, cream and herbs that make the most beautiful mariniere you have ever had.
- 1kg mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ½ medium carrot, very finely chopped
- 3 eschalion shallots, very finely chopped
- 5 medium cloves garlic, very finely chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ tbsp fresh thyme leaves
- 250ml dry white wine
- 2 tbsp creme fraiche
- Sea salt and black pepper
- Flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Heat the olive oil in a very large saucepan and sweat the shallot and carrot until very tender – about 5-10 minutes. Add the bay leaf and thyme and stir to coat with the oil.
Turn the heat up to high, add the wine and allow it to bubble away until reduced slightly. Keep the lid on the pan whilst doing this as it will create some steam with which to cook the mussels. Add the mussels and cook on a high heat. After a couple of minutes, pick up the pan and, holding the lid on tightly, toss to coat the mussels in the wine mixture. As the mussels just begin to open, take them off the heat.
Carefully pour the liquid from the pan into a separate saucepan, leaving the mussels and vegetables in the pan. Put the lid on the mussels and leave to one side. Heat the sauce on a medium heat until it is reduced a little further and stir in the creme fraiche. Season well and gently cook the sauce for a further ten minutes.
Pour the sauce back over the mussels, add the parsley and toss again. Serve in bowls with skinny fries or crusty bread.